WASHINGTON — Can consumers and farmers come to the table to discuss animal care and welfare down on the farm?
The American Farm Bureau Federation hopes so.
To address consumer concerns about the care provided to farm animals, the American Farm Bureau Federation has launched the Conversations on Animal Care initiative. The goal? Engage consumers in a positive dialogue about animal care.
The initiative also helps livestock producers share personal insights on the care they provide farm animals, and puts the faces of farmers and ranchers on our nation’s livestock care issues.
According to AFBF Public Relations Director Don Lipton, the national farm group knew it was time to act when they received the findings from a survey it commissioned earlier this year.
Agree or disagree
The national online survey, conducted in January by Harris Interactive, asked nearly 3,500 individuals if they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: “Farmers and ranchers in your state treat their animals humanely.”
A majority of voters, 57 percent, said they agreed or strongly agreed with the statement. However, 34 percent of those surveyed responded “not sure.”
Not good enough
“While a majority of consumers who participated in the research believe farmers are doing a good job, one-third of those surveyed didn’t have enough information to even have an opinion,” Lipton said.
Survey participants were then exposed to a series of educational statements and messages about food-animal production. At the conclusion of the survey, participants again were asked if they agreed or disagreed that farmers and ranchers in their state treat animals humanely.
This time, 72 percent agreed or strongly agreed — a jump of 15 points.
“This tells us that, when presented with basic information about the practical and ethical standards farmers and ranchers maintain, consumers respond positively,” Lipton said.
A major component of the Conversations on Animal Care initiative is a training program that teaches producers to share their stories.
During two days of training, participants hone skills in sharing their personal stories with local audiences, the media and in one-on-one opportunities. They also learn of the important role online tools play in communicating to consumers.
“As producers, we don’t have to be experts on the whole livestock industry,” said Chris Chinn, a Missouri pork producer. “But we are experts on the care we provide to the livestock on our own farms. That’s a story we can and need to tell.”
So far, the Farm Bureau, working with professionals from Osborn & Barr Communications, has trained teams of farmers and ranchers from Alabama, California, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Tennessee, to date.